All 270(ish) students in my elementary school collaborating on one big project over the course of a month, each part of the project relying heavily on another group doing their part. That was my goal. My principal had mentioned a collaborative project, and it had grabbed my interest. I had no idea what to do from there.
One morning a few weeks later, while in the shower (where all amazing ideas are born), I had a fleeting thought about my oldest daughter’s upcoming field trip to a fire station. This sparked a little genius hour project of my own to see the scope and sequence of the study of community helpers through elementary school. It turns out that every grade level has some mention of community helpers/citizens woven into the North Carolina Essential Standards for Social Studies (K-2, 3-5).
So I wrote a DonorsChoose project for a Community Helper Lego Construction set and an Ozobot. The majority of the project was funded by our friends at Paradise Games, a local gaming store in our community. (A HUGE thank you to these guys!) The idea? To use Lego bricks to build a community and have an Ozobot programmed to move through it using codes created by markers.
Here was the plan:
PreK, Cross-categorical class, and Kindergarten: Research various community helpers using PebbleGo and create a list of community helpers they would like to see in our own community
1st grade: Use the list created by PreK, CC, and Kinder to determine where those community helpers worked. For example: Kindergarten said we need a doctor. 1st grade decided that doctors work in a hospital and a doctor’s office. They also mentioned dentists, so we included those as well. These buildings were compiled into a list for 2nd grade.
2nd grade: Create a blueprint for the community. Use the Lego blocks to begin building the workplaces of the community helpers. *This was where I saw real engineering and the STEM element of the project begin to emerge. My students did not understand the proper way to build with the Lego blocks; they didn’t get the purpose of the overlapping of bricks to create an interlocking wall. The walls would crumble when moved. Lots of devastated kids and a few tears, but they figured it out and created some excellent building foundations.
3rd grade: Put the finishing touches on the Lego buildings and review the blueprints for the community with a suggestion prepare for 4th grade. This group also laid the foundation of the community (white bulletin board paper) onto two large rectangle tables in the media center.
4th grade: Place buildings throughout the community. Heated conversation ensued about the location of the church (which was insisted upon by my 2nd grade students), the proximity of the school to the police station/jailhouse, and the ability to move from the doctor’s office to the hospital quickly. These students also created the “sidewalks” to signify road spacing on which the Ozobot would travel.
5th grade: Using the open road spaces for the Ozobot, the 5th graders designed a color-coded roadway that allowed the Ozobot to visit all of the buildings in our community. It started in the entrance to the community and went to every single building performing various tricks, tasks, and moving at different speeds along the way.
The project took only one class period (45 minutes) for each class in the school. There are 14 classes. With snow delays and my media schedule switching each week, this schoolwide STEM project took nearly 6 weeks to complete. Overall, all students in the school worked toward a common goal, collaborating each step of the way. The younger students took delight in seeing their community helpers and the buildings come to fruition on the tables in the media center. The workspace was out front and center where everyone could see it as they entered the learning space. During the creation of the community, the workspace was organized chaos. Students left it, as is, when their class time was over. Our faculty still held meetings here, students still circulated books, and we still held media classes and small group instruction.
It is my hope that this project continues to push forward a change in school culture. For me, this project was never about the materials (which were an awesome addition to our makerspace collection). It was the idea of my entire school working together to make something really cool. I almost cringe to call it a STEM project because STEM seems to be becoming another “buzzword”, a label to put on something to make it sound educational. Truly, this project was an adventure. This project allowed my students, in all grade levels, to see a long-term goal met with research, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. It was a mess throughout much of the process, none of us knew what we were doing, and we pushed through and made a masterpiece. Our students’ future is not about coloring in bubbles on an answer sheet, sitting in desks taking notes, and listening quietly to an adult talk all day. Their future is about engagement, empowerment, and enthusiasm. Through this schoolwide project, these students were all engaged, they were empowered by creating a community of their own, and they were more enthusiastic than ever before.
*Video on YouTube.